Think back to a time when your business was small. No, not small. Tiny. Maybe even go back to a time when you didn’t even call it a business yet. Your clients consisted of people you knew personally. People whose kids’ names you could remember and whose birthdays would come and you’d send them a card. People who knew as much about you as you knew about them.
Deep personal relationships are the foundation for any successful small businesses. In fact, no matter what stage they are in, every small business relies on client referrals and word of mouth as their primary lead generation tool. And that doesn’t come from treating your leads and clients like numbers.
But as your business grows and your client base expands, the deep connections that got you started are hard to maintain. This shouldn’t diminish your desire to stay close though. It just changes your strategy. When you've outgrown your ability to keep up personally with every client, a CRM (customer relationship management) system could be the next step for your business. Discover if a CRM is the next best step for you.
What is CRM?
CRM is taking what you used to do manually to maintain relationships and making it automated. It’s centralizing all the details—big and small—about every client in one place. With the proper system in place, your client will feel just as connected to you as those first clients did, without the impossible undertaking of memorizing personal information about every one of them.
From a free Excel spreadsheet to a paid CRM
For many small businesses adding another expense can be a burden. Especially when it seems like a well-organized spreadsheet can do the trick. But there are a few tell-tale signs and stages that can help you determine why a CRM is the next best step for your small business.
1. You are entering the double letter columns in your spreadsheet
When you first start tracking your clients in an Excel spreadsheet, you will probably start off with basic qualifiers. Name, contact information, and a few designations about where they are at in the sales funnel. But as your business grows and your processes become more robust, the details surrounding each contact grow as well. When locating information is no longer easily done with a “find” search, you might be ready for an upgrade.
2. The spreadsheet is never 100 percent up to date
Do you have a laundry list of “add to spreadsheet” items? Are you dismissing important information as trivial because you don’t have the time to input it into a spreadsheet? Is a lot of client information stored in your brain? When updating, locating, and relaying your client details becomes an item way down on your to-do list, your organization system is no longer effective and a CRM system can help you get relationship processes automated.
3. You say “I wish I could…” a lot
If you find yourself wishing:
- You could have your contacts organized in groups
- You could apply a bulk action to select contacts
- Your email marketing strategy could be tied to client details
Those are strong indicators that you are ready for a more hearty system.
4. You’re hiring employees
For small business owners, there is usually a system of organized chaos. You know where everything is and how to find it because you put it there. No matter how your internal system is though, relaying that to new employees is almost always a recipe for disaster. A global client management system and process will make training and transitioning significantly easier on you and your new employee. A spreadsheet can provide some budget-friendly guidance to client information. But if you’re looking for something that does more than just holds what you can no longer store in your head, CRM can be a smooth next step.
Empower your follow up
Whether you’re an avid email marketer or an appointment-based service, how you follow up with your clients can make or break your business. And the key to effective follow up is all about getting personal. It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with every client, but you should know the where, what, and why’s (at least) of their connection to your business. The more information you acquire and can use, the better your follow up will be. And it’s in the “can use” where CRM systems serve their greatest purpose. Most successful business owners have a method to their madness, but being able to harvest the information you hold and enable your communications is what elevates your business. The right CRM service will not only make this possible, but it can even automate the process for you so that you have more time for strategy and development.